Auckland Event Pulls Crowd

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The 2013 Cathay Pacific Auckland Open was a milestone and the first stepping stone in introducing a more publicised spectator situation for our main table tennis events. Spearheaded by Auckland Table Tennis Association and the hard efforts of their volunteers, the event really shaped into a great one. With prizes on offer from Lone Star, UberPong, Powerade and of course a grand prize of $1000 for a lucky spectator, a few hundred hopeful people had crowded into the stadium by the time the semifinals were staged to begin.

The spectator atmosphere was quietly buzzing away with guest host Adam Bobrow from Los Angeles commanding the microphone and adding music for some added flare. The Women’s semifinals would take place first with Melissa Tapper from Australia’s HWATT taking on Vicky Yang the winner of the 2011 and 2012 Auckland Open events and National Champion Timea Tapai playing NZ ranked number 1 Sarah Her-Lee on the first table.

Sarah’s match with Timea was one of intruige. Just one week ago at the NZ South Island Championships it was Her-Lee who had stepped up her game to take the first 3 sets over Tapai but had lost her foothold on the match and lost in the 7th and final set. This time Sarah again looked impressive in her approach to the match, patient as ever. The match held even at 2-2 before Timea started pulling away and some of Sarah’s patience dissolved. 4-2 the end result, a great match for both players. Meanwhile Vicky Yang was out for revenge. A 3-1 loss to Tapper in the test match was clearly not going to happen again. Tapper looked worn out, hitting the ball much later than in the test matches and drifting back a bit more from the table. There were some great rallies but Vicky jumped on her close to table advantage and pressed the wide ball. From 2-2, as with the other semifinal match Vicky began to rapidly pull away and claimed her place in the final with a 4-2 win.

The men’s semifinal produced a great result for the locals with Phillip Xiao upstaging 2nd seed Simon Gerada from Australia. Gerada was the 2003 Australian Open and Oceania Champion and graced the world’s top 200 at a younger age. Now focusing on his students at HWATT, he was looking a little rusty and Phillip leaped on the opportunity. While Gerada began with a more passive game, mainly blocking on his backhand where we would normally see some crazy backhand loops, he was still sharp on his forehand counterlooping. It was again a tense semifinal match, drawing much like the others at 2-2. You had to wonder whether the international experience of Gerada could pull him through in the face of a very determined Phillip Xiao. As it turned out it couldn’t, Phillip pulling away to win in 6 sets and claiming a great personal victory and of course taking the last Australian out of the draw, a good crowd pleaser.

In the other semifinal John Cordue was doing his utmost to make an impact against 2 time national champion Teng Teng Liu. While Cordue brought some close sets to the match it was the crucial points that got away from him as Tony Liu brought out the big shots when it really counted the most. There were some decent rallies and the tight play was good, Cordue fully aware that any loose ball would be a fatal error. Trailing 3-0 Cordue made his last ditch effort and drew the 4th set even at 9-9 before an attempt to serve with extra spin resulted in a fault and the match was then lost 11-9 and 4-0. A risky play from Cordue, you can’t help but wonder if it would have paid dividends!

The crowd of spectators were treated to some fun games and a chance to win some prizes, lead by host Adam Bobrow. There were inflatable clappers and signs all around, a good buzz as the excitement continued to build. Some interesting signs out there, two in particular stood out to me for the men’s final which would be between Phillip Xiao and Teng Teng Liu. Some keen players worked hard to return the serve of Sarah Her-Lee and those who succeeded were awarded prizes. While the games were going on it was Vicky Yang and Timea Tapai getting ready for their final. Vicky nervous as ever and admitting her difficulty with playing choppers, it would be a tough match but she had played well in the semifinal and so we were looking forward to seeing what she could bring to the game this time!

Timea went out with full focus, knowing that victory was within her reach. Her graceful style was fantastic for the spectators to watch and she mixed spin and no spin to great effect. Vicky struggled to maintain consistency and it was clear in parts that Timea had the match under control. Before we knew it Timea had taken a big lead and then proceeded to close out the match, every so often we were lucky enough to see her come in an attack with her backhand, but it was her classic defensive style which carried her through to a 4-0 win and to the Auckland Open title for 2013.

Now the men’s finalist prepared for their clash. Teng Teng Liu probably grateful for avoiding a 3rd encounter with Simon Gerada after having lost twice at the 2011 Australian Open but also staring down a very determined opponent who was looking in good form. Phillip made a great effort in the match, the sets were close but much like John in the crucial points Phillip wasn’t able to dominate and this made all the difference. Tony not taking a second to look back as he continued to fight through the match and finally work his way to a 4-0 victory. Despite the finals both being one sided in score, it was a great spectacle of table tennis for the onlookers and a good atmosphere for all.

So a great success for ATTA in the organisation of a great event, one lucky young individual got to race up and collect his prize of $1000 while others walked away with Lone Star vouchers, customised UberPong bats and other cool prizes. This was no doubt the start of a small revolution in table tennis to build the profile of our events. Thanks to all the sponsors, the organisers and the spectators for making the event such a success and of course congratulations to all the players who participated not just in the big matches but over the whole weekend. We look forward to another great event next year!